skip to content

Cambridge Forum for Jewish Studies


War and Words. Krausian "Biographic" in The Last Days of Mankind

Dr Deborah Holmes, University of Kent



In his monumental drama ”Die letzten Tage der Menschheit”, the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus launched a savage attack on the causes and conduct of the First World War as seen from the perspective of Austria-Hungary. Over 800 pages long in its later versions (1922/28), it consists in large part of quotations from newspaper articles, proclamations, legal texts, war poems and songs, juxtaposed with snatches of conversation as overheard in Vienna’s streets and coffeehouses. There is no plot as such, rather a succession of dialogues created from this varied intertext and sustained by an immense cast whose members are largely based on historical figures. The lecture will explore the relevance of Kraus’s mammoth project to the biographies of the individuals he co-opted for his satire and vice versa. In particular, the genesis of scenes from the first two acts featuring Hofrat and Hofrätin Schwarz-Gelber will be examined. These blackly comical characters – ruthless careerists intent on exploiting the opportunities for social mobility created by the war – are claimed to have been based on the real-life models of either Hermann and Eugenie Schwarzwald or Rudolf and Erna Schwarz-Hiller, acculturated Jewish couples who were respected representatives of liberal reform movements in fin-de-siècle Vienna. In investigating their literary incarnation here as paradigmatic types, I seek to shed light, not only on the nature of Kraus’s satire but also on the modes of biographical writing to emerge from German-language Modernism.

Friday, 28 February, 2014 - 17:00 to 18:30
Contact name: 
Ulrike Balser
Event location: 
The location was advertised as Main Lecture Theatre, Divinity School, St John's College.